Clayton is a town and county seat of Union County, New Mexico, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 2,980. Clayton is a crossroads for tourists heading from Texas to Colorado, and Kansas / Oklahoma / Texas to Taos, New Mexico.
The Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail brought some of the first Americans through the Clayton region. The Santa Fe Trail was first established in 1821 after Spanish rule was evicted from Mexico which opened up trade between Santa Fe and the United States. William Becknell, also known as the Father of the Santa Fe Trail, became the first person to utilize the Santa Fe Trail as a trade route between the state of Missouri and Santa Fe. He established the Cimarron Cutoff, also known as the Cimarron Route, as a faster route between countries as the Cimarron Route shortened the Trail by more than 100 miles. The Cimarron Cutoff went straight through the Clayton region where travelers used the Rabbit Ear Mountain as a guiding landmark. Eventually travelers along the trail began to appreciate the rich soil around Clayton and the rolling green hills which were perfect for raising livestock. Cattle ranchers and sheepherders established ranches in the area, though they were large and far apart.